Interview with Data Engineer Joeri: About solving puzzles, tadpoles and the language of programming

Young Mavericks’ Data Engineer Joeri (26) helps professionalize the Waterschap (Water Board) Aa en Maas. He is working on ‘Python Refactoring’ in their Datalab, a process aimed at optimizing existing codes, which makes them more accessible, user-friendly, easier to manage and more error-proof. Joeri: “Colleagues at Aa and Maas did not immediately see the added value of refactoring. By showing the time and money it could save them, I was able to win them over. Now, everybody is excited.”

Could you introduce yourself?

“Hi, I’m Joeri, I live in Amsterdam and I am a Data Engineer at Young Mavericks. Everybody around me knows that I like to change hobbies every couple of weeks. At the moment, I love to listen to and produce techno. I can’t wait– once the coast is clear – to go to techno parties. Soccer is also a big passion of mine, but unfortunately I can no longer play due to multiple knee injuries, so if someone has a great suggestion for a new hobby, let me know!”

How did you end up in the world of data engineering?

“After high school, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I liked everything: philosophy, sociology, math, chemistry… Computers, however, weren’t on my radar yet. In the end I chose Beta Gamma, but soon discovered that chemistry – and especially spending all my time in laboratories – was not for me. When I heard about a minor in Programming, I thought, why not? I realized during the very first lecture that this was exactly what I was looking for. As a programmer, one is constantly solving puzzles. And the best part: how you arrive at the solution does not matter, as long as it works. That type of freedom really appealed to me. I now know that there are indeed objectively ‘better’ solutions, but I still enjoy solving issues every day. After the minor in Programming I chose to specialize in Artificial Intelligence, after which I started working as a Web developer at a small start-up.”

What made you choose Young Mavericks?

“I really wanted to be somewhere with people who knew more than I did. People who could guide me in the right direction. So then naturally, and especially as a recent graduate, I ended up looking for traineeships. I applied at various companies and ultimately chose Young Mavericks because it felt right – more personal attention and a company with vision. At Young Mavericks I found what I was looking for. I was able to learn a lot from the teachers in particular, and working with other trainees such as Yaleesa has also influenced me a lot.”

Can you tell us about your assignment at Waterschap Aa en Maas?

“In January 2020 I started my assignment as Data Engineer at Aa en Maas. What I do exactly is difficult to put in one sentence, but it boils down to optimizing the entire data development process of Aa en Maas by means of ‘refactoring’, a process of restructuring the internal coding systems. I come up with potential improvements in structural and data processes, which I then develop and implement. I assist my colleagues in the Aa en Maas Datalab with updating data; I make sure that everyone has access to the codes, make the codes user-friendly, easier to manage and more error-proof and make sure issues are ‘logged’, so that the right person can resolve them. In short, I help Aa en Maas professionalize and form an essential link between the Datalab and IT.”

How did you convince your colleagues at Aa en Maas of the importance of refactoring?

“When I just arrived at Aa en Maas, I believed I already knew and could do everything. It wasn’t before long I got stuck and asked Young Maverick’s Stefan to help me out. Together, with the help of my manager at Aa en Maas, we conducted numerous interviews with employees. I learned what employees were struggling with, what they needed and uncovered some sensitivities. It taught me so much. I realized how unfortunate and easy it is to overlook these perspectives, or to assume to know everything from the get-go. This realization also helped me convince my colleagues of the importance of refactoring. The core team was sold immediately, but other departments were less easily convinced. It makes sense; refactoring takes a lot of time and does not immediately yield anything new. By showing how much time and money Aa en Maas could save with refactoring, I managed to get everybody on board.”

How are you enjoying the collaboration with Aa en Maas?

“I thoroughly enjoy collaborating with Aa en Maas. I was afraid at the outset that being a 26-year-old would make it difficult to influence older Aa and Maas colleagues. Thankfully, it turned out my worries were unjustified. Also, I’ve hardly ever had to deal with the bureaucracy that comes with many government agencies. My manager navigates the lines of communication masterfully and knows whom to approach to get things done. Of course, sometimes things take a little extra time, but I’ve learned to deal with that. What I really like is that at Aa en Maas I get to collaborate with people who have very specialized and detailed knowledge about hydrology. They speak passionately about how a rise in the water level in stream X affects the life of tadpole Y. I think that’s great.”

Can you tell something about the support you get from Young Mavericks?

“When I got stuck in the beginning of my assignment, Young Maverick’s consultant Stefan came to the rescue. Together we conducted interviews and made an action plan. That was very useful and helped me enormously in my interaction with Aa and Maas colleagues. Now I still have a weekly consultation with Young Mavericks, but I feel less and less a need for it, which is of course a good sign!”

How do you look back on the past months at Aa en Maas?

“Looking back at my early days at Aa en Maas, I would tell myself that I don’t always have to know everything. People are very willing, even happy, to help. My assignment at Aa en Maas is very diverse – and that’s exactly what I enjoy and what I’m good at. Even working from home fits me fine. When I have or my girlfriend has a meeting, one has to move to the bedroom, which is not ideal, but having zero commute, the space to pace, listen to loud music and a somewhat flexible work schedule – I really enjoy that freedom. It actually helps me to get more done and leaves me with more energy both during and after work.”

“I am proud of what I have been able to achieve in recent months. Proud that I was able to convince everyone that refactoring was the way to go, and of course the results we have achieved. It’s great to see everyone’s enthusiasm. I’m also very happy about my colleagues’ new, more critical attitude – they now strictly monitor the quality of the codes.”

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